Q: Hi Greg! I grew up in the 1970's riding my Schwinn “Apple Krate" bicycle to my buddy’s homes with all my collectible junk tucked under my arm to trade with them. It was a great time to be a kid; popping wheelies on our bikes, watching the Apollo space program from our yards (Orlando FL), and then riding in my older brother’s muscle cars on Daytona Beach.
But a photo of some of your collectibles from one of your recent columns in Auto Round-Up caught my eye. It was the Revel model kit of "The Little Red Wagon" Dodge Pickup wheelstander and is the first model I built as a kid. I proved not to be very good at model building, but that little Dodge D-100-A compact pickup, with its 90-inch wheelbase, was all over the place in those days on the drag strips. I cannot remember a more popular hot rod pickup those days.
Could you elaborate on that iconic "wheelie popping” Dodge? If I remember correctly, it had a huge Hemi engine in its bed. Thank you for your fun columns and I look forward to them in Auto Round-up publications. Michael Paul (age 56), Spokane, WA.
A: Michael thanks so much for your letter as it is letters like yours that keeps me going! I’ll get to the Little Red Wagon and the iconic Little Red Express pickups, but first I’ve got to tell you my bicycle memories, too.
When I was 14, my friends and I used to drag race and even oval race our bikes on the streets and parking lots where we lived, namely Vineland, N.J. at that time. My brother Michael, an electronic genius, made a drag race starting system (yellow—green-red) for authenticity and we literally TOWED my bike to the races with another bike. Our race bike had special low or high gearing to suit drag strip or oval gearing needs. They were great days, and we won lots of those kid races.
As for that Dodge Pickup wheelstander of the 1960s and 1970s, it was one of four wheelstanders that quickly come to mind. The top four in my opinion include the one you note as the best and known as the 1965 “Little Red Wagon” driven by Bill “Maverick” Golden.
This wheelstander was followed closely in popularity by the 1966 Plymouth Barracuda “Hurst Hemi Under Glass,” and third but not least, in my opinion, was the 1969 LA Dart of “Wild Bill” Shrewsberry in a “candy cane” striped Dodge Dart.
The fourth was Chuck Poole’s Chuck Wagon, both in VW pickup and Dodge D-100 dress. There were many others, but these four I believe were the most popular.
All used Plymouth/Dodge 426 Hemi engines with either injection or supercharger and the Little Red Wagon pickup was sponsored by regional Dodge or Plymouth dealers and Chrysler corporate. The Hurst Hemi Under Glass was driven by Bob Riggle from Ohio and designed/built by another Ohio native in the aforementioned Shrewsberry, who carved his drag race and exhibition vehicle legacy prior to his personal LA Dart fame.
More recently, Riggle flipped Hemi Under Glass with none other than Jay Leno as a passenger. It’s on Youtube and you’ve got to’ see it. (By the way, Jay Leno’s Garage TV show is a must for all car and truck fans…he’s the best thing that ever came out of Hollywood when it comes of this wonderful world of collector cars and trucks).
OK…back to business.
The “Little Red Wagon” wheelstander pickup rivaled the “Hemi Under Glass” as to popularity and as both boasted faithful followings. Thankfully, I’ve seen all of the great wheelstanders in person during my time, along with countless others I can’t mention due to space limitations. Model car kits or die-cast of many of the aforementioned wheelstanders are still available online or at hobby shops.
Now since this is a Truck Round-Up issue, I would be remiss not to mention a lot more about one very special pickup truck that in my opinion grew from the popularity of the “Little Red Wagon” wheelstander and took everyone by surprise.
Specifically, even before Ford or Chevy introduced a “performance pickup,” Dodge took a very special pickup truck from drawing board to assembly line when it introduced the “Lil’ Red Truck” short box D-150 pickup, which became available in 1978 and 1979.
Although not capable of wheelies, the unique “Lil’ Red Truck” 360 V8 powered Dodge D-150 pickups still have a rabid following and have appreciated in value over the years. Overall, just 2,188 1978 and 5,118 1979 Lil’ Red Truck pickups were ever built. These unique D-150 pickups are also known as the “Little Red Express,” as emphasized in the advertisements.
Today, most everyone agrees that the positive reputation of the Lil’ Red Truck is a result of Dodge sponsoring the Little Red Wagon. This theory is again proven as Dodge used much footage of the Little Red Wagon in numerous TV commercials during the era and also utilized specific “Lil’ Red Truck” lettering on the back of the “bright red only” D-150 pickups.
Thanks for the letter Michael and our reminiscing about those wild wheelstanders and our younger years.